Meet our Members!

Name: Paul Gwengi
Position: Patient Assistance Program Advocate
Hometown: Kenya
College: Cheyney University of Pennsylvania
Why did you join PHC? I joined PHC so I could learn about the healthcare system and be part of a group that is working to improving the health of others.
What are your future plans? To travel to different countries and learn/offer healthcare and dental care services to those countries.
What is one thing you would change about health care? Make health and dental insurance affordable to all; I think it would be the biggest step to making people’s lives better.

Because we all want to know…
Favorite SEPTA experience? I fell asleep on the bus while heading home from my health center. When I woke up, I found myself almost half-way heading back to the center!… the bus had gotten to its final stop and turned back around for the returning trip.
Which celebrity do you get mistaken for? Akon
#1 most played song on your ipod? Life in Technicolor by Coldplay
Typical packed lunch? 5 slices of Nutella sandwich. The bread has to be toasted, Premium white Arnold bread.


Things That Matter

My commitment to serve the community as a Patient Assistance Advocate at one of Philadelphia’s public health centers has been rewarding, unforgettable and enjoyable. My duty involves directly communicating with different pharmaceutical companies to help the uninsured gain free access to expensive medications that they need. Providing this access to care for patients has been a journey that I consider one of the highlights of my life.

When I joined the Health Corps, I signed up for an 11-month commitment in which my goal was to understand the impact of healthcare policies on getting access to quality care, especially among those who are uninsured. So far, the past 7 months of service have exposed me to the bigger picture and some little details that I didn’t expect. In many cases uninsured patients buy their medications out of pocket, but cannot afford the needed supply. Instead they would buy small quantities and stretch out the intake, meaning taking little quantities to last them longer, as opposed to the dosages that the doctors recommend.

A patient once came to me and said, “I went to the local pharmacy and this medicine costs $360 per month! I recently lost my job, yet I need it.” I told him that I would do my best to make sure that he gets it. I filled out his application and sent it to the pharmaceutical company that provides the medication. A few weeks later, the company approved his application and agreed to provide him with a year supply of free medication. The medicine was shipped to my health center, and the patient came to pick it up. As he walked away, he waved and said “Paul, thanks a lot my friend. See you in a couple of months.” I told him that he might not find me when he comes back, since my days of service will soon be over. He stopped at the door, walked back to me and said “In that case Mr. Paul, I have to say goodbye. I don’t know what I could have done without your help”, and firmly shook my hand.

I wonder whether our paths will ever cross again, and what kind of impact or how much change I made in his life, or those of the more than 300 patients that I have come in contact with. Every day I appreciate the opportunity to serve my community. I have also realized that it’s the little things that I do and the principles that I live by that matter the most; being patient, having a passion and being deeply committed to whatever I do.

-Paul Gwengi, Philadelphia Department of Public Health

Meet our Members!

Name: Robert Modest
Social Work Associate
Long Island, NY
Howard University (undergrad); Georgetown University (grad)
Why did you join PHC? I wanted to do another year with a different AmeriCorps program and get a change of scenery.
What are your future plans? I want to work in the medical field as a clinician.
What is one thing you would change about health care? Making healthcare available to everyone that needs the coverage.

Because we all want to know…
What was the strangest food you have ever eaten? I was on the Upper East Side in Manhattan and I was out with my friend, her research mentor, and husband. I ordered the rabbit with Italian grits and it was delicious.
Favorite Place in the city? I like 40th Street in University City. I love all the different food options and restaurants they have in the area. I usually do my grocery shopping in this area also.
Funniest PHC memory?  My favorite PHC moment was at one of our member meetings. Our guest speaker was showing us how to relieve stress by laughing. I think I was being a ham about it and was over doing the laughing, but I just couldn’t stop. Best lesson on stress relief I ever had.
If you were a crayon, what color would you be?  I would be the color blue because it symbolizes trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, and truth. I consider myself all of the above as I try to incorporate each of these virtues into my character.

Almost Two Years Later…And I’m Still Pushing

This is my second year serving in an AmeriCorps program. Over the last two years I was able to gain several new and different perspectives on healthcare.  While being emerged in a non-profit setting I learned the inner workings of a non-profit organization.   I can say that my choice to serve for a second year has really challenged my ability to stay true to a commitment. During these two years, I sacrificed a great deal of luxuries, while I stand by watching my friends’ discretionary income and better living quarters.  When I think about the opportunities and life skills I have obtained in these two short years, I know I am setting myself up for success through the relationships I have formed at my host sites, city sites, and within the AmeriCorps culture.  It also goes to prove that money is not everything, not because I serve for practically nothing, but because I was able to stay grounded and focused on the  needs of those I serve daily. While serving we live with very little financial means, many of the patients I  assist live with even lower financial resources and yet, they always seem to be in better spirits about life. Their positive outlook on life gives me energy that keeps me focused on providing quality care and services for them.  In a sense they are my inspiration to keep pushing.

This year I am a member with the Philadelphia Health Corps. I serve as a Social Worker Associate at Abbottsford-Falls Family Practice and Counseling (FPCN),that’s definitely a mouth full to say.   A mouth full can’t express how it feels to call patients for hours on end each day.  At my site I see patients that are uninsured or underinsured and determine their eligibility for state medical insurance programs such as Medical Assistance, Medical Assistance for Working Disabled (MAWD), Select Plan for Women, Prenatal, and CHIP.

The most challenging responsibility at my site is the insurance application process. You have to be very focused on the stringent requirements set by the Department of Public Welfare (DPW).  Documents must be filled out correctly or you’re DENIED.  Documents need to be turned in, in a timely manner or you’re DENIED.  You have to ensure that the Nurse Practitioner has documented the patient’s disabilities with the correct wording or you’re DENIED. Even for many patients that turn in all of their documents, and are eligible guess what YOU’RE DENIED!!! So the last one mentioned is where I focus on being the liaison between the patients and DPW. I often coach patients on the process of an appeal. But what pains me more is to see prenatal and emergency medical assistance applications denied. Many of these people are rushed to the hospital with no medical insurance, no income, and suffering from major medical problems and DPW finds some justification to deny pretty much all my applications.

Even with all the chaos I am reminded that it’s all worthwhile when a patient returns with insurance, you can definitely see the relief in their face. So far I assisted over 100 patients receive various Medicaid benefits. While that’s only 60% of the patients that I’ve been of service to, there are more patients with health coverage now at my host site, than when I started. While assisting patients with health coverage seems like a lot, my day is still not over.  In addition to assisting patients with health coverage, on a daily basis I help patients file applications for SNAP (food and cash assistance), LIHEAP (energy assistance), CRISIS grants (emergency assistance), as well as helping create payment agreements with our patients who cannot afford their co-payments for clinic visits or medications from the pharmacy. Throughout the day Nurse Practitioners will call me into exam rooms to enroll patients into prescription assistance programs, many of these patients are in dire need of life sustaining medications.

There are also some pretty cool weekly programs here at Abbottsford-Falls FPCN including groups for smoking cessation, diabetic education, drug and alcohol support, and parenting.  In addition we offer plenty of trainings called Miniversity sponsored by our sister organization Resources for Human Development (RHD).  At the end of the day the serving can be very challenging, but with focus and dedication it is all worth the experience.  I’m still pushing!!!

During my past two year in AmeriCorps I have gained invaluable experience. I have learned that I would like to become an Infectious Disease Specialist, with an emphasis on HIV infections.  With my passion and education I want to open a partnership with other inspired physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, as well as behavioral health professions that holistically would provide their services to an underserved population.

-Robert Modest, Abbottsford-Falls Family Practice and Counseling

Meet our Members!

Name: Robyn Foster
Patient Assistance Program Advocate
Madison, Wisconsin
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; political science
Why did you join PHC? To gain hands on experience and knowledge working in the non-profit sector, so that I can one day continue to assist the public and understand their needs in a wide range of areas including health care.
What are your future plans? I hope to attend law school in the near future and obtain a law degree and a Masters in Public Health, so that I can become an attorney that specializes in the health care field.
What is one thing you would change about health care? While everyone would love to have equal access to health care, I would like to go a further step and create funding possibilities for equal qualities and standards of health care.

Because we all want to know…
If you were a crayon, what color would you be? Perky Pink Punch
What is the strangest food you have ever eaten? Gator Bites
Favorite thing about Philly? The rich history, culture, art work (murals) and most of all, I love its locations. It’s so close to so many great places (DC, Baltimore, Atlantic City, NYC)
Which celebrity do you get mistaken for? Toni Braxton (I wish)

The Domino Effect

September 6th 2011 was the first day that we, as Philadelphia Health Corps members, began our journey of service for 47 weeks straight.  With time to digest over 30 of those weeks, and a total of 1,231.50 hours, I find it hard to express what this experience has done to evolve me as a person. As a proud member of my community I feel as though I have given my blood, sweat, and tears to assist as many underserved patients as possible.  Although I knew I wanted to work in non-profit after graduation, not until I had this experience did I become interested in public health. Serving has opened my eyes and I have loved most of it. There are times, however, when I feel that I cannot help everyone, or anyone for that matter.

My host site is unique from other health centers for the City of Philadelphia Public Health Department because my co-member and I have the honor of running the center’s Comprehensive Health and Wellness Program, an education outreach for patients. On a daily basis, we get to speak with patients to assist them with life sustaining medications. The Comprehensive Health and Wellness Program allows us to step from behind our desks and walk through the clinic to reach out and speak to all of the patients, young and old.

Since arriving at our center, we decided to change the way the program works.  Instead of passing out flyers on why one should be healthy, we interact with patients waiting to be assisted.  We handed out 2 ounces of dark chocolate hearts on Valentine’s Day to support healthy hearts, and have held live cooking demonstrations to encourage healthy nutrition.

The most rewarding feeling came on a Thursday two weeks ago.  My co-member, Paul, and I put on a live cooking demonstration (Paul and Robyn’s Healthy Kitchen). Because many patients are uninterested, we usually only interact with 5 or 6 individuals using our health outreach material. But with the cooking demonstration, we seemed to get almost two dozen patients in and out of a small conference room within 30 minutes. They chatted with us afterwards and even began to engage with one other on their own health concerns and the concerns they have for their fellow community members. Two women requested that Philadelphia Health Corps come and speak to organizations that they are involved in within their communities.

While it may seem like nothing, it touched me to watch our patients that didn’t know each other discuss concerns, health fears, and how they too wanted to share information with their community. It let me know that what we’re doing is worthwhile and even if I’ve only reached one person, that one person can go on to help another and so on…creating the domino effect.

– Robyn Foster, Philadelphia Department of Public Health

Meet our Members!

Name: Benjamin Starobin
Patient Assistance Program Advocate
Fort Washington, PA
Cornell University/Bryn Mawr College
Why did you join PHC? I wanted to make a difference in a medically underserved community.
What are your future plans? 
Hopefully medical school. If not, then hiking the Appalachian Trail. 
What is one thing you would change about health care? 
Introduce single-payer insurance system to allow both doctors and patients to focus on health issues, and not whether certain medications and treatments are covered, or not.

Because we all want to know…
Favorite thing about Philly? The mix of new and old all around the city.
Favorite Place in Philly? Penn Park on a sunny afternoon.
#1 most played song on your iPod? Holocene, by Bon Iver.
Which celebrity do you get mistaken for? Elijah Wood (ie: Frodo)